Review: Topre Realforce TKL R2 55g

Introduction

When I first heard that Topre was going to update the Realforce TKL, I was extremely excited as I felt like the old design was getting stale. I also thought that with a few minor upgrades to the keyboard, it could be that one prebuilt that I could wholeheartedly recommend to anyone who wanted a solid keyboard with all the bells and whistles, but without the fuss of having to build up a custom kit.

I got to try the Realforce TKL R2 when it just launched way back in the summer when I was in Japan and I really enjoyed my initial time with it. I didn’t buy it then because it was only released in the JIS layout at the time, but I have made up for that by purchasing one on Amazon the day it released. Now that I’ve had a chance to use it for an extended period of time, here are my thoughts on it.

Specifications

Model Name: Realforce TKL R2TL-US5-IV

Case Material: ABS Plastic

Plate Material: Stainless Steel

Elevation Angle: ~4.75 degrees (~10 degrees with flip out feet)

Keycap Material: 1mm dye-sublimated PBT

Switches: Topre 55g Uniform

Price: $258

Link: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07K9M7X9F/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o03_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

Case Quality and Design

Writing reviews on plastic-shelled prebuilt keyboards is not in my wheelhouse by any means, but from my experience with entry boards, the Realforce TKL R2 is built better than most off-the-shelf boards that I’ve come across. It is up there with the Filcos and KUL ES-87s of the world, and definitely better than your average Razers and Magicforce 68s. Its case doesn’t flex or creak when force is applied, whether linearly or rotationally. It is made of plastic, yes, but very good plastic at that.

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The Realforce TKL R2 sports a pared back case design that is in line with the modern prebuilt case designs. Moving away from the curvy, forehead-and-chin-heavy R1, the R2 is angular all-around with even bezel sizing all around the key clusters. While many people still prefer the R1’s design, I like the refreshed aesthetic of the R2 just as much. Because the R1 and R2 are fundamentally similar keyboards, I’m hoping that both the R1 and R2 can coexist in the collection in some form. As Taylor Swift once said, “two is better than one”.

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Another significant change from the R1 to the R2 is the addition of a semi-transparent grey accent on the top right of the keyboard surrounding the ‘Print Screen’, ‘Num Lock’ and ‘Pause’ keys. The accent allows for the LED indicators to shine through and adds an additional visual element when looking at it upfront. I personally could do without it, but at this point I’m so used to it that I can’t imagine the keyboard without it.

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The sides of the keyboard feature two-step recesses that makes the keyboard easy to pick up — a feature that I have championed and will continue to champion. Visually, though, the side profile is nothing impressive. I’m not really sure what the designers were going for with this, but I think that it could have been done with a lot more thought.

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The slight chamfer to the chin of the keyboard is a welcomed addition as I find my palm resting on it pretty often. Where it would usually be sharp on a custom kit, it is angled here so as to not dig into my palm.

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The textured rubber feet on the underside of the keyboard provide a lot of traction, which is extremely important for a keyboard as light as this one. Unfortunately, while the flip out feet lock in place with solid detents, they are not finished in that same textured rubber. As such, there is no additional friction between the keyboard and the surface it’s rested on when in the flipped-out position. I haven’t found a difference in slideability when fully flipped out — probably because changing the angle of the force changes how much friction is needed to move the keyboard — but it is a talking point that could have been avoided if they just put some damn rubber on the flip out feet.

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As with many prebuilts, the Realforce TKL R2 has three-way routing channels on the underside for your choice of either a left-aligned, middle-aligned or right-aligned cable position. Having three options for where the cable comes out from is a feature I sorely missed when using custom keyboards as all three can be viable depending on the aesthetics and functionality of your setup. As an example, I prefer to have a middle-aligned cable when the keyboard is the only thing on my desk, and a left-aligned cable when using the keyboard over my laptop keyboard.

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Speaking of the cable, the non-removable rubber cable on the Realforce TKL R2 is evocative of peripheral cables back in the old days. Insert ‘back in my day’ comment. Old memes that should die aside, it’s a nice cable that will probably last, but I personally would have gone for a more modern-looking braided cable to match the updated aesthetics of the R2.

Keycap Quality

The 1mm-thick PBT keycaps that come stock with the Realforce R2 TKL are decent enough and get the job done, but are nothing to write home about.

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The reprisal of PBT keycaps is one that I fully welcome as the deeper bottom out sound of PBT complements the naturally deep Topre switch well. The sculpted Topre profile found here is also nice to type on as it’s similar to Cherry profile — my singular favorite profile. Furthermore, the keycap surface is nicely textured, though it has that skin-like texture similar to what’s found on MT3 keycaps.

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Texture that looks like skin pores

The quality of the plastic is, in short, not great. Most glaringly, at least 30% of the keycaps have burrs (little protruding plastic bits) on them. This is one aspect of keycap quality that most people overlook, but is something I find annoying. With simple quality control checks, these burrs could have been avoided. They could very easily be filed off, too. However, to most keycap manufacturers, burrs aren’t even a thing that crosses their mind in the quality inspection process. From all the keycaps I’ve seen so far, only the MT3 keycaps get it right.

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Plastic burr on the top of the keycap

The dye-sublimated legends don’t fare too well, either. Across the board (ha!), the keycaps have inconsistent kerning, bad centering and mismatched thicknesses. Most of these errors are carried over from the R1, so the refreshed R2 is a huge missed opportunity to right those wrongs. Check these photos out:

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‘Caps Lock’ legends are shifted slightly upwards from center
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‘End’ key looks good spacing wise, but ‘Insert’, ‘Home’ and ‘Delete’ are laterally compressed
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Inconsistent icon thickness between the ‘Enter’ arrow and ‘Shift’ arrow
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‘Num Lock’ and ‘Pause’ look regular, but ‘Print Screen’ looks squeezed laterally
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Curly bracket lines are much thinner than the square bracket lines

On the bright side, it seems as though the dye sublimation process has improved slightly from the Realforce R1s and HHKBs. While the dye subs on older Topre boards were heavily feathered and blurry, the dye subs on the Realforce R2 TKL, while still not as good as the dye-sub legends from the likes of Hammer (think IMSTO and BSP), are very acceptable.

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Plenty of feathering still, but now not immediately noticeable

Typing Feel and Sound

It’s publicly known that Topre is my favorite switch, and as with other Topre keyboards I’ve tried, this is the section where the Realforce TKL R2 really shines in my opinion.

With the 55g Topre switch inboard, like on the stock 45g Topre found on the HHKB, the tactile event is relatively subtle. There is a slight amount of resistance that you need to get through right at the top of the depress, but clear that and you’ll bottom out onto the plate with little force. While the slightly more tactile 55g Topre is perfectly fine to type on, I still prefer the more subtle 45g.

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As I’ve mentioned in my review of the Hacking Keyboard Professsional 2, Topre’s tactility is different from that of other tactile switches because of its ‘return tactility’. Essentially, return tactility is the feeling of tactility when the switch is moving back up. In MX-style tactile switches, the return tactility is felt at the same physical position as the depress tactility; in Topre, the return tactility is felt right at the bottom, opposite from the depress tactility. Here’s a diagram explaining that because words are hard sometimes:

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The sound profile of the Realforce TKL R2, like most other Topre keyboards, can be described as a reverby ‘thock’ upon bottom out followed by a higher-pitched clack on the upstroke. That higher-pitched clack is more pronounced on this board as the steel plate makes for a higher-pitched sound. Here’s a sound test to demonstrate what I mean:

There are some drawbacks to the Topre system on both the typing feel and sound production fronts, though. For one, the ‘Backspace’, ‘Enter’, left ‘Shift’, right ‘Shift’ and ‘Caps Lock’ keys sound and feel rattly upon bottom out as they’re longer keys that aren’t stabilized on multiple points. Even with the stabilizers lubed, these sounds cannot really be removed as most of the rattle comes from the keycaps shaking on the plunger-like stems they’re mounted on. Bad stabilizers were one of the main critiques most people had of the older Topre boards, so I thought that a refresh in design would also bring and improvement in this area. Unfortunately, that is not the case here.

Conclusion

The Realforce R2 TKL is an update to the exterior shell above anything else. Without the design change, I feel as though the Realforce R2 TKL has nothing much that’s new over the old R1. There were so many shortcomings on the first Realforce that they should have known about with the years of community feedback they should have gotten, but yet they decided to do nothing about most of them. The stabilizers are still rattly and the legend quality is still mediocre.

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One thing I will say is that I like the new design a lot. Head on, it’s a great looking board and I think it sits better on a modern desk setup than the old one does.

Like with other Topre keyboards, if you’re used to the perfect and exacting quality of custom keyboard kits, you would probably be disappointed by the Realforce TKL R2. The stabs are trash, the plastic shell is, well, not metal, and the keycaps aren’t even as good as EnjoyPBT (and that’s saying something!).

Ultimately, though, the Realforce R2 TKL is still my to go recommendation for a prebuilt keyboard. Topre as a switch is just too good, and the rest of the prebuilt space is just a terrible mix of disappointment and compromise. This is the board for only the Topre lovers and for the people who want a good enough prebuilt. If you’re deep into the custom game though, look elsewhere.

Review: yuktsi’s TGR 910RE (Polycarbonate)

Introduction

The TGR 910 series of keyboards has had multiple spinoffs since its inception in 2015, and the polycarbonate-cased TGR 910RE is the latest in that line. Initially ran as a limited friends and family only group buy, only 30 units of the TGR 910 RE were made, making it rare even for a TGR.

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While there were a few custom keyboard kits before that were made in polycarbonate (the Duck Unicorn comes to mind), the TGR 910RE was the board that brought the material to people’s radar.

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Subtle but necessary TGR flex

I have never tried a polycarbonate-cased keyboard before, so when I was offered to build this keyboard for a reader of the blog, I jumped on that opportunity.

Specifications

Model Name: TGR 910RE

Case Material: CNC-ed Polycarbonate

Plate Material: Sandblasted Brass

Weight Material: Sandblasted Brass

Case Elevation: 7 Degrees

Layout: Modified 65%

PCB: Proprietary TGR Unicorn 1.2

Building Process

To my surprise, building the polycarbonate 910 was not a fun experience. In my experience building TGRs, the plates and PCBs have always been easy to work with. However, the sandblasted brass plate that came with this kit had extremely tight switch holes, making snapping the switches into place a real chore. In some instances, the switches would not go all the way in even after the snap. I had to do a bit of extra contorting and forcing of the switch before they could go all the way in.

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Switch that didn’t sit flush on the plate even after the ‘snap’

Another gripe I had with building the polycarbonate 910 (and all other 65% boards that try to do too much) is that the large switch cutouts for multiple layout support made building up the bottom row difficult. This is because the PCB mount holes don’t hold the switches in snugly and because the plate doesn’t constrain the switch on all 4 sides. I would have preferred if the keyboard only supported 6.25u and 7u spacebar layouts, but this is easy for me to say as I don’t use split spacebars on my boards unless I have to.

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Through-cut TGR logo on the plate

Apart from those two major issues and a few minor ones like the plates screws not being the same size and the case screws, building the TGR 910CE plate/PCB up was problem-free. The PCB was pre-flashed out of the box and the plate/case screwed in without issue.

Case Quality and Design

The TGR 910RE is essentially a TGR 910CE with a polycarbonate shell instead of an aluminum one. This means that it comes with a T-shaped back, a 2-part case construction with seam, and the iconic 65%-with-top-right-blocker layout.

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Side-profile shot, with semi-see-through view of the brass plate, brass weight, blocker and PCB

As you’d expect from a board designed by yuktsi, the TGR 910RE has excellent keycap-to-case spacing and usage of fillets/edges. There’s only so much a designer can do on a micro level when it comes to keyboard design, but I agree with all of those design choices in the TGR 910RE.

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You’d think the case is light because of its polycarbonate shell, but the huge brass through weight on the underside adds a lot of weight to the case. Heavier than a lot of the 60% customs. Weighing in at 2.3kg, the polycarbonate 910 is only 200g lighter than the aluminum 910.

 

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The massive brass weight

The top right blocker houses a removable polished brass insert that, if not constrained to the case, just shakes around in the cutout. I would recommend using clear tape to hold it down (or up, I guess) so as to not show through the opaque polycarbonate case, but other methods work fine too. It’s a nice touch as it completes the poly-brass look with a brass accent on the top side, but I wish the brass piece was constrained a bit more ‘professionally’.

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Brass insert at the top right blocker

 

About Polycarbonate

The pièce de résistance of the TGR 910RE is its polycarbonate shell, which I have mixed feelings about. One thing about the polycarbonate top-mounted case here is that there are many points around it where discontinuities break up its visual cohesion. For example, the grain and opacity of the top case are different from those of the bottom case, making for a mismatched look at the seam. Also, because the TGR 910RE is a top mounted keyboard joined at seams, the screw holes and threads are visible from the outside. This is particularly annoying when looking at the keyboard head-on as the screw holes manifest themselves as 16 light spots grouped in pairs around the bezel of the case. The tray-mounted KBDfans Acrylic Tofu, an $88 dollar keyboard case, pulls this look off much better as it doesn’t have those visual discontinuities on its exterior.

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See through screw threads and mismatched top/bottom cases that break the cohesion of the case aesthetics

Additionally, I have concerns about the durability of the polycarbonate case. The frosted polycarbonate case attracts scratches, dust and dirt more easily than its aluminum counterpart. The flimsy and very bendable polycarbonate case also doesn’t inspire any confidence. When screwing on that monster of a brass weight onto the light polycarbonate base, I was fearful that the weight would snap the bottom case into half. Polycarbonate screw threads also just aren’t durable — the threads on this 910 already make sandy/scratchy sounds when screwed into.

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Top case warped in the z-axis

From a designer’s standpoint, polycarbonate as a material is a pain in the ass to work with, too. The success rate of CNC-ed polycarbonate is low because of how soft a material. While this increases its perceived value I guess,  it means that even the better-made cases are still pretty bad. For this board in particular, the top case came warped on all three axes — and this was the top case that passed quality control! As a result, the top and bottom cases just wouldn’t be flush at the seam no matter how much aligning I did. The CAD file that yuktsi designed could very well be perfect, but the material limits how good this case can be.

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One thing I will say about polycarbonate cases is that they look great. While polycarbonate is a plastic, it doesn’t look cheap at all (unlike the HHKB, for example). The best angle of the keyboard is definitely from the bottom of the case as the sandblasted brass weight and PCB seen through the opaque polycarbonate looks amazing. I wish there was a way for that ‘see through technical’ aesthetic could be replicated all around the case, but that would be a feat of engineering for sure.

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Now that’s just pretty

Typing Feel and Sound

If you’re a regular reader of the blog, you’d know that I prefer a hard plate setup for my linears. This keyboard is built just the way I like it. The high Young’s modulus of the brass plate in combination with the 8-point top mounting make for a stiff bottom out feel that complements the vintage blacks inboard very well. Even when smashing on the keyboard, there is no perceptible flex to the plate/PCB combo — just the way I like it.

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Top-mounted screw holes

As for sound production, which would be the most interesting part of the review because of the polycarbonate case, I cannot comment with any certainty as to how the TGR 910RE compares to custom keyboard kits. This is because the TGR 910RE is a customer build with Krytox 205g0-lubed vintage Cherry MX Blacks for switches instead of the customary Superlubed retooled Cherry MX Blacks that I use to keep this section consistent across multiple kits. While Krytox 205g0 makes switches smoother and more consistent from switch to switch, it also makes the switches mushier and more muffled-sounding, very different from the scratchy but full-sounding Superlubed switches.

What I can say about the sound production is that it does sound every so slightly more reverby than other 65% aluminum customs I’ve tried. However, the difference in reverb is basically negligible, probably because of the sheer amount of brass present in the construction. That brass weight does a lot more for the case’s typing feel and sound production than you would think by adding that much more material for vibrations to travel through, as I’ve mentioned in my article on keyboard construction.

Conclusion

Is the TGR 910 RE overhyped? Yes a hundred times. I understand that rarity, novelty, TGR name brand and the iconic status of the TGR 910 RE all contribute to its staggering >$700 aftermarket price. However, unlike other >$700 keyboards, this keyboard probably won’t stand the test of time. I have serious doubts about polycarbonate’s durability long-term and as such it doesn’t appeal to me on an intuitive sense like aluminum custom kits do.

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Its saving grace is that the frosted polycarbonate look makes it an excellent display piece. As such, if it’s the frosted look that you’re after, and you’re not interested in clout, I’d recommend you save a couple hundred bucks and get a frosted acrylic Tofu from KBDfans with a dremmeled-off center mounting post instead.

 

Guide: Keyboard Construction Explained

Introduction

When I first started learning about custom keyboard construction, I was taken aback by all the different terminology and what they all meant. Even with guides like Deskthority’s Custom Keyboard Construction wiki entry, it was hard for me to get a grasp of everything and understand how that translated into the actual performance of a keyboard.

This, along with ‘gatekeeping’ by elitist collectors and the general lack of understanding about keyboard construction pushed me to write this guide. I want to preface with the fact that people have different preferences for typing feel and sound — some people like flexible plates, some people like very stiff plates, some people like something in between and some people like everything. Also, note that case construction is only one part of the typing feel and sound equation for a keyboard — switches and keycaps are equally important parts.

Hard Plates v. Soft Plates and Vibration Science

The main factor affecting typing feel is how hard the plate is during bottom out. All plates will bend/flex to some extent, but some more than others. From my 2nd year engineering classes, I learned that the amount of deflection/flex is a function of the material’s Young’s Modulus (think stiffness), position of supports (how the plate is mounted) and moment of inertia (think the distribution of the plate’s mass). Thus, all else equal, the lower the Young’s Modulus and moment of inertia, the greater the deflection/flex of the plate.

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Understanding the physics behind vibration science is crucial in our discussion about sound production. In general, the denser a keyboard part is, the higher the pitch produced because sound waves travel faster in denser mediums and higher speeds produce higher frequency sounds. Also, the more volume a keyboard part has, the more singular the sound produced as the sound waves have more material to travel through, dampening the sound produced.

The Plate

Materials

In the early days of keyboard group buys, steel and aluminum (with brass a little later on ~2016) were the only options we could choose from. Recently, we’ve seen an uptick in different plate materials like plastics (ABS, acrylic, polycarbonate), carbon fibre and FR4. I’ve also been hearing chatter about titanium, PBT and copper plates being offered. Suffice to say, the plate material is the case element that we’ve seen the most experimentation in.

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FR4 plate for Keycult No.1 by keycapdungeon.bigcartel.com

Understanding the performance aspects of plate materials is relatively straightforward. In order of most stiff to least stiff, the plate materials rank: steel > brass > aluminum > acrylic = polycarbonate > plateless (not to be confused with PCB mount — that refers to the switch bottom). As mentioned in the previous section, the stiffness of the plate is linked to the Young’s Modulus of the material, with steel having the largest Young’s modulus of the common plate materials. While the Young’s Modulus of materials does vary a little based on their alloying, the order of stiffness mentioned is usually accurate.

While it may seem intuitive to min-max a certain plate feel (offer only steel for hard plate setups and only plateless for soft ones), there are many people who prefer aluminum as the perfect middle ground of having flex but still retaining a more metallic, singular bottom out sound.

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Jer-A06’s Top-Mounted Plateless PCB

With that being said, one thing I’d like to see more of in keyboard development is a PCB with mounting tabs for a top-mounted plateless keyboard like the JER-A06. We have seen the opposite end of the stiffness spectrum fully explored with stainless steel sandwich mounted plates, so it’s about time we got some love for the flexy side of things.

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yuktis’s TGR Alice brass plate

In terms of sound profile from bright and singular to deep and reverby, it follows similarly: steel > brass > aluminum > plateless. However, from my experience, brass has a special sound signature to it that is deeper and more musical than both steel and aluminum, which makes it special as a plate material. Not to say that keyboard sound signatures are nearly as significant as trumpet sound signatures, but this is why brass is the material of choice in certain musical instruments.

Thickness

1.5mm plates have been the standard plate thickness since the old Cherry days of keyboards and has worked well for us all this while. Besides the acrylic custom community in which 5mm (the maximum possible for Cherry) acrylic plates have been around by necessity, plate thickness wasn’t really something that custom keyboard designers intentionally messed with.

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ZealPC’s Zephyr 5mm brass plate. T H I C C.

In the last year or two, though, boards like ZealPC’s Zephyr and RAMA’s M60-A that use the thicker 5mm plates has sparked a lot of discussion about its viability. Some keyboard enthusiasts have even called 2018 the ‘Year of the 5mm Plate’. That aside, thicker plates are stiffer and have more material for vibrations to travel through, making for a harder bottom out feel and a more high-pitched, singular bottom out sound.

Flex cuts (universal plate, intentional flex cuts, fixed layout)

For the purpose of simplification, plate flex cuts are through cuts made to the plate on top of the minimum needed to put switches in. By this definition, a fixed layout plate has no flex cuts, whereas a universal plate that takes away material from the plate to support multiple layouts does. The more flex cuts a plate has, the smaller amount of material it contains, providing for a more flexible typing feel and a more reverby, deeper bottom out sound.

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TGR Jane V2’s Flex Cut Plate

Aside from layout-bound flex cuts, keyboard designers have intentionally designed plates with additional cuts since the early days of Korean kustom keyboards. Famously, the OTD 360 Corsa (sidenote, but check out this really cool project) had flex cuts all over and around the alpha cluster to promote flex and isolate the alpha cluster from the rest of the keyboard. To my glee, designers like riotonthebay and yuktsi are bringing back the flex cuts with their respective Keycult No.1 and TGR Jane V2 keyboards. The Jane V2’s brass plate-only option defeats the purpose of flex cuts (brass plates are much harder than aluminum), nonetheless I’m glad that designers are not letting this idea die with the old kustoms.

The Plate-Mounting System

Tray-Mounted Plates/Tray Mount

The tray-mounted plate is the most basic and commonly used mounting method of any custom keyboard. Essentially, tray mount keyboards act as a drop-in box with standoffs onto which the PCB/plate combo is secured to. The standard tray mount arrangement originated from replacement cases made for the Poker keyboard back in the day, and has persisted to this day, serving as the bread-and-butter of KBDfans’ custom keyboard business.

 

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Standard tray mount arrangement

For all intents and purposes, this is a perfectly fine way of constraining the PCB to the case. Tray cases are cheap to manufacture but you get the same customizability and modularity as more complicated plate mounting systems. However, because of a mounting post right in the middle of the alpha cluster, there’s a hard spot in between the ‘G’ and ‘H’ keys that makes for a discontinuous typing feel. Custom keyboard makers have fixed this by removing the center post on their tray mounts at the cost of having to use a proprietary PCB. However, as I’ve mentioned in the review of the Duck Raven, a tray mount sans center post, I’d take the far improved typing experience any day.

Top-Mounted Plates/Top Mount

Keyboard cases with top-mounted keyboards generally consists of two main parts: the top case and the bottom case. Top-mounted plates have mounting tabs with screw holes that screw onto the top case, which in turn is screwed onto the bottom case to fully assemble the keyboard. Top-mounting has become the go-to plate mounting system for custom keyboard designers and for good reason. It performs admirably for both hard and soft plate setups, while also being easy to implement as there are many other top mount keyboards to base off.

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yuktsi’s TGR Alice top-mounted plate

While I do think top-mounted plates perform very well, it is unhealthy that it has become a default option for most keyboard designers. Top-mounting may very well be the best way to construct keyboards, but we’ll never truly know until we experiment with other plate mounting systems. As such, I hope keyboard designers at least try to innovate in this fundamental part of keyboard construction.

Bottom-Mounted Plates/Bottom Mount

Bottom-mounted plates are similar to top-mounted plates in their use of mounting tabs, but with the tabs mounted to the bottom case instead of the top case. In theory, this should provide for a more singular bottom out sound and a more stable typing experience as bottom cases tend to have more material for vibrations to diffuse through than top cases. How much of an improvement that is, I can’t say for certain. This is because bottom-mounted keyboards are few and far in-between — only the KBD 8X and old KMACs come to mind. So, keyboard designers, try this out and you have my money.

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KMAC 1’s bottom-mounted plate 

Sandwich-Mounted Plates/Sandwich Mount

Sandwich-mounted plates work exactly how it sounds: the top case and bottom case sandwich the plate between them, and the bottom half is screwed to the top, holding all three pieces together. Because sandwich-mounted plates are constrained continously around the plate instead of at distinct mounting points, they flex less than their top/bottom-mounted counterparts, providing for a harder bottom out. Also, because the plate is connected to both the top and the bottom cases, sandwich-mounted keyboards are better able to dampen bottom-out vibrations, making for a more singular bottom out sound.

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Graphic detailing the TX-style sandwich mount

More than half of kin25’s TX keyboards use a sandwich mount to excellent results, providing for the hardest plate setups you can buy. As I mentioned in my article on TX keyboards, kin25 wanted the brass sandwich-mounted plates on his flagship TX60 and TX65 keyboards to do exactly that.

Integrated Plate

Unlike the previous plate mounting systems mentioned, integrated plate setups don’t have a removable PCB/plate combo. This is because the plate and top case are milled out from the same block of material. As a result, similar to how sandwich mounts are constrained, integrated plates are constrained continuously on their perimeters. This provides for a hard bottom out feel like the sandwich, just less so because it’s only constrained on the top side and not on both sides. Integrated plates also tend to be louder and more reverby because they’re usually attached to the lighter top case.

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RAMA’s M60-A integrated plate

Case Design

Case design also contributes to sound production (just to a lesser degree) as it directly affects the amount of material vibrations have to diffuse through. All of density of material, elevation angle, height, layout, case thickness, bezels and brass/steel weights contributes to the amount of material in the case. This makes designing a case for a specific sound production very subjective and brings up a lot of questions. What is the minimum amount of material the case needs to sound a certain way? What is the point of diminishing return past which adding more material doesn’t change the sound too much anymore? If we’re really to call ourselves quote-unquote designers, these are the things we need to be thinking about.

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kin25’s TX65 and its chunky design

One example of a keyboard that is designed to maximize vibration diffusion and a hard bottom out is the TX60/65 keyboard by kin25 (yes, again with the TX shilling). While its layout is relatively compact (compared to TKLs, that is), it is VERY chunky and it has a large brass weight on its underside, making it extremely heavy for its 60%/65% size. It also comes with a sandwich-mounted brass plate adds more heft to the keyboard. You can tell that the TX60/65 is designed for maximum vibration reduction and it shows in the performance of the keyboard.

Aside from vibration reduction, case design also affects how hollow the keyboard sounds. The larger the distance from the PCB to base of the bottom case and the larger the distance from the bottom of the keyboard to the surface the keyboard is on, the more hollow the keyboard will sound.

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LZ’s GH V2 hollow but full brass bottom

This can be mitigated to an extent with usage of denser materials all around the case. For example, while the LZ GH V2 has a huge space underneath its case, it still manages to not sound hollow as the entire bottom case is made of super dense brass.

Dampeners

In pursuit of the most singular and quiet bottom out sound possible, keyboard enthusiasts have started adding materials with dampening characteristics to their keyboards. By adding stuff lilke sorbothane sheets, shelf liners and vibration dampening mats, hollow sounding keyboards that are otherwise awesome can become truly awesome. For example, keyboards like the M60-A, CA66 and the HHKB are unique and cool keyboards that fall short because of hollowness, but are greatly improved with dampeners installed. Of course, if keyboards were designed well in the first place, add-on dampeners would not be necessary. But, it’s nice to know that if you get a dud of a keyboard, you’re not just shit outta luck.

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Happy Hacking Keyboard Professional 2’s anti-vibration mat 

Another way keyboard designers have been toying around with dampeners is by using elastic material to cushion the bottom out feel of a keyboard. We’ve seen some of this through the psuedo-gasket mount of the Keycult No.1 and the o-ring cushion on both the Hineybush Compact and Windeh’s Reflex/Paradox. While not new, this adds another design element for designers to consider and that’s awesome.

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Windeh’s Reflex/Paradox o-ring cushion

Integration of Parts

While in the previous sections, case elements were described as distinct features, it is possible for designers to combine them in creative ways. While this complicates the physics of it all and makes it more difficult to anticipate how a keyboard will feel or sound, the move towards experimenting in this regard has been an interesting development in keyboard science this year.

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Quantrik’s Kyuu brass plate

One recent example of a keyboard that combines different case construction elements is Quantrik’s Kyuu keyboard. Instead of just using a single plate-mounting system, the Kyuu’s plate is mounted both by sandwich on the top half and by top mount on the bottom. The plate also shows through the sides and top of the case as a psuedo-midpiece accent ala Lin3x’s Dolphin and EM7 keyboards. This breaks all the rules of plate mounting and I find that fascinating.

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Keycult accented midpiece + weight combo

The Keycult No.1 is another keyboard that combines multiple construction elements in an interesting way. Instead of having separate pieces for the weight and accented midpiece, designer riotonthebay combined the two elements for a weight/midpiece combo that is milled out of a single block of metal. This makes for one HEFTY keyboard that should diffuse vibrations better than the standard rectangular weighted keyboards.

There is countless opportunities for experimentation here because of the multiple combinations of case elements theoretically possible and I’m excited that we’re trending in this direction.

Conclusion

Keyboard construction is such an important part of the typing feel and sound equation of the keyboard, but yet it is one of the least talked about parts of it. From my experience hanging around Discord servers, talk about keyboard cases usually devolves into just the aesthetics of it (which is terrible compared to real product design by the way, but that’s a topic for another time) instead of the ‘why it performs the way it does’.

What I hope for with this is that the overall understanding of how keyboards work improves in the community, When joining a keyboard group buy, all we get is a mere spec sheet with all of this information that tells us nothing about its performance. We can’t tell how a keyboard is going to type or sound before getting it, but this information can at least help us better guess what we’re getting our $400+ into.

I also hope that keyboard designers take this and actually design their keyboards to go for a certain typing feel/sound instead of just ticking the hottest features of the month off a checklist. I want keyboard designers to actually exhaust all their design options and experiment with everything to distill the ultimate version of their design. Basically, I want them to design a keyboard. Like, Dieter Rams or Jonny Ive-level, 900IQ-type design.

Keyboards are great. They can be better.

Review: Duck Raven and Plateless MX

Introduction

If you’ve read my review on the plateless TINA-C, you would know how much I love plateless tray mounts. You would also know that plateless tray mounts sound and type weird because of that middle mounting post on the base of the keyboard. As such, when I found out that Boonduck Hwang (or Duck for short), a reputable (and very hyped) Korean kustom maker, produced a tray mount sans middle standoff as a regular production keyboard, I knew I had to get one in for review.

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Duck Raven’s standoff implementation

This standoff arrangement is not new for Duck as it is also shared with the Duck Eagle/Viper V1 and Duck Poker keyboards, but the Raven and Sidewinder are actually in-stock boards you can buy right now without the involvement of your friendly mechmarket price gougers.

I know, I know. Doing a Duck review right after a TGR one is far too rich for all but the most seasoned of collectors. Don’t worry, I have some content coming up for those of you who identify more with the proletariat.

Disclaimer: I got this keyboard from PrimeKB at a significant discount in exchange for my honest thoughts on the keyboard. I’ll never sell you all out I promise!

Specifications

Case Material: Anodized Aluminum

Plate Material: Aluminum MX, Steel ALPS (built plateless for the review)

Case Construction: Tray Mount with Proprietary Standoffs

Elevation Angle: ~7 degrees

PCB: Duck Viper/Eagle V1 (programmable through O2D)

Price: $310 + shipping (now on sale for $260 + shipping on PrimeKB)

Link: https://www.primekb.com/products/duck-raven-sidewinder

Unboxing

The unboxing experience of the Raven, as per typical custom keyboard fashion, is barebones but well done. Opening up the cardboard outer packaging, I was met with custom-cut foam that envelops the keyboard. Removing the foam was difficult as the keyboard fit tightly in the foam, but it was nothing that some wiggling and pulling couldn’t fix.

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I had a scare when I first opened up the package as I thought the plate was cling-wrapped directly to the bottom of the case. My concerns were quickly alleviated after unwrapping the cling wrap as all the components came packed in their own separate clear envelopes.

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We get it! It’s made in Korea!

One thing I noticed was that the packaging was littered with tiny ‘Made in Korea’ stickers. I, for one, am fully bought into the Korean Kustom Masterrace, but I don’t need to be reminded 15 times throughout unboxing it that Korean keyboards are superior. But then again, though, I could stick ‘em on all my stuff for the Duck flex.

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As per usual, I did a little inspection of the case to make sure that everything was good and scratch-free. I’m pleased to report that everything was flawless when it got to me — must be that amazing Duck quality control that he’s so well-known for. Also, the PCB worked right out of the box and came pre-flashed with a standard 60% layout. Good to see that while Duck might be cashing in by making boards in-stock, he’s still maintaining that high level that’s to be expected of a maker of his caliber.

Building the Keyboard

Building plateless tray mounts is usually a quick and easy experience and the building the Raven was no different. While I did have some setbacks (some of which was my own doing), it was nothing that couldn’t be worked around.

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For plateless builds, the switch-to-PCB fit is vital for getting switch alignment right. Fortunately, the lubed retooled Cherry MX Black switches I used fit very well into the Duck Viper/Eagle V1 PCB. Even with the PCB upside down, the switches stayed in the PCB firmly. This made soldering the switches in a breeze as they were aligned from the get go with minimal straightening needed. Keep in mind that while Cherry switches fit in fine, other switches that don’t follow the same Cherry standard (Gaterons come to mind} may be too tight or loose.

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After soldering everything in, assembling the stabilizers and connecting the keyboard to my computer, I encountered the first setback: instead of registering the keystrokes I was typing, the keyboard kept repeating the letters ‘ZXCVBN’. This indicated to me that the PCB has been shorted somewhere. After an hour (!!!) of troubleshooting, I found out that the left screw on my right ‘Shift’ stabilizer was shorting the entire bottom row. I used some electrical tape to buffer it, and you could also use non-conducting washers to the same effect, but this is unacceptable on any PCB, let alone one from a high-end keyboard maker. Keep in mind that if you’re building one of these with GMK screw-in stabilizers, you may need buffer material ready to prevent that.

While I did build the keyboard plateless, I tested the aluminum MX plate that came with the kit and I’m happy to report that the switches fit in with little-to-no wiggle room. As such, the combination of the excellently sized PCB mount holes and tight plate should mean building with the plate should be a smooth experience, too. However, the right ‘Function’ cut out doesn’t have a right constraint. That means that aligning a plate mount switch there is going to be a pain in the butt.

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O2D is notorious community-wide for being an unintuitive PCB remapping software that’s hard to get started with. If you’re setting O2D up for the first time, follow this guide word-for-word and you should be golden. Once you have all you need installed, O2D’s GUI is easy to use and flashing the PCB with your new layout should be straightforward. I had a bit of a setback on this part of the build as the ‘Duck Viper/Eagle V2’ marking on the PCB led me to believe that I needed a V2.x hex file when it actually needed a V1.x one as mentioned on the PrimeKB website. My bad! After I got that sorted out, though, flashing the PCB took me all of 30 seconds and the Raven was ready to use.

Case Design

From a birds-eye view (ha birds gottem), the Duck Raven has that ‘case-within-a-case’ aesthetic popularized by TX. The Raven also has a pseudo-octogonal shape to it with 4 long sides and 4 diagonals, making more of an octagon than the namesake Duck board, the Duck Octagon. Keyboard naming is often so terrible it’s actually funny.

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While the case lip and diagonals are superfluous as design elements — they don’t contribute much to the construction or performance of the keyboard — the interplay between the reflective chamfers, matte tops and shadowed sides make for an interesting textural and visual contrast when viewed against light. Even though the Raven is meant to be Duck’s budget keyboard, it builds upon the design language of previous Duck keyboards and feels like it is part of the lineup.

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Look at how the reflextive chamfers and shadowed sides play with the light

As someone with a bunch of keyboards in the review pipeline, I find myself moving and changing keyboards often. I’ve really come to value pickupability highly and the case lip/LED recess on the Raven helps with that immensely. I think side profiles have been criminally underused and underdesigned as many designers have opted for a more unadorned look. Because of that, it’s nice to see that Duck has and continues to apply his design chops in that area.

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That banana product placement tho

The rectangular bumpons on the underside of the Raven stick to the table well. A bit too well, for that matter. It adheres to any surface I put it on, and that works well to compensate for how light the board is.

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Additionally, while Duck keyboards are known for their wrist-breaking 11 degrees of elevation, the Raven sports a much more tolerable 7 degree angle. For me, this is a welcome addition as my wrist would hurt after typing on a Duck Eagle for an extended period of time. 7 degrees is just about perfect for me and is one of the reasons this board works so well for my usage.

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LED implementation on the Raven

While creative use of LED diffusers is a signature feature on Duck keyboards, they tend to be underwhelming more often than amazing. On the Duck Raven, the LED holes on the case flanks are more the former than the latter. With the PCB plugged in, the two LEDs on each side shine through the through-holes on the case onto the surface, creating two strong spots of light and diffused light around them. The LED implementation is intentional as you see it on other Duck keyboards too, but frankly I’m not a fan.

Machining and Anodizing Quality

Duck has built his reputation on strong quality control of his cases and the Raven is no different. Apart from a few machine marks on the interior of the case, the case arrived practically flawless. Machining is clean all around with no leftover swirls, hooks marks or burrs. On the exterior, there is not a single scuffed chamfer or scratch — a remarkable feat given how easy it is to mark up rough-anodized cases.

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Speaking of rough anodizing, it is a feature typical of Duck keyboards in the past, and is present here on the Raven as well. This time around, though, the anodizing is more pleasant to the touch and feels less sandpapery than on the Duck Eagle/Viper V2s or Duck Octagons. It is still rougher than most boards out there, though, and that means the anodization is going to pick up and show scuffs much more easily than its smoother counterparts. Furthermore, rough anodizing makes all the case edges softer and slightly less defined, which doesn’t lend well to its angular aesthetic.

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Super clean anodizing on the underside (dark spots are from my fingerprints LOL)

However, if you can look past that, the anodization on the Duck Raven is as good as I’ve seen. From what I can see, the anodizing is flawless with no dark spots, streaking or pitting. The neutral grey tone (and a nice grey at that!) is also maintained throughout the case with excellent color consistency. Plus, because the Raven is a tray-mounted keyboard, there is no need to color match the multiple case parts — the part of QC that even the best group buy runners fail to do well.

Typing Feel and Sound

The most notable change in the Duck Raven compared to the standard tray mount is the removal of the middle standoff, and that changes up the plateless typing experience completely, and for the better.

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Am I doing the r/mk scattered keycap style photo right?

The bouncy and flexible typing feel you’d normally associate with plateless keyboards is amplified in the Raven as the PCB flexes more than any other keyboard I’ve tried. This is particularly obvious on the 4th row as I can physically see the PCB flexing when I’m bottoming out on it. Compared to standard tray 60s like the TINA-C I reviewed earlier, the difference is staggering; the ‘G’ and ‘H’ keys (where the middle standoff typically is) bottom out way softer on the Raven and it feels as though the entire alpha cluster is now uncaged.

I’ve said before that I liked plateless tray mounts for short bursts because it’s fun to type on, but that it’s not serious enough for me to use long-term. Now, with the more continuous typing feel on the Raven’s alphas, I take that statement back. The cushioned typing feel means my finger joints don’t hurt as much typing on them over long periods of time.

The Raven’s sound also benefits from the removal of the center standoff as the ‘G’ and ‘H’ keys no longer bottom out with a ping. You get that same thocky, deep and reverby bottom out sound a la HHKB, but even more so. It is a completely different bottom out sound from what you’d be used to if you’ve only typed on hard plate setups (think brass, stainless, or even aluminum to a certain extent), but I would definitely recommend you give it a try.

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Two plateless tray mounts with Hammer Cyrillic dyesubs

Just like the TINA-C, though, the tray mount implementation here is not perfect. Because some standoffs are still positioned near important keys, ping is still a problem. For example, the ‘Pipe/Backslash’ and ‘Enter’ keys annoyingly bottom out with a harsh, high-pitched ping as they are positioned between the two right standoffs. This is mirrored on the left side of the keyboard with the ‘Tab’ and ‘Caps Lock’ keys, but is less of an issue for me as I don’t use those keys often. It’s not too bad of an issue, but it is something that could (and should!) be improved on.

As such, I think there is huge upside for plateless tray mounts with only side standoffs as you’d essentially be able to get a bottom mount typing feel/sound at tray mount prices and quality. That being said, the Raven is a step in the right direction as just removing that one center post has dramatically altered the tray mount typing experience.

Conclusion

The Raven not only has great anodizing/machining, legendary Duck quality control, excellent typing feel/sound etc going for it, it is also in-stock! So often, you only find out how good a keyboard is after the group buy is over, and then you can’t buy the keyboard anymore or are forced pay flipper prices on mechmarket. Also, there’s nothing I hate more than joining a group buy and getting burned by delays, uncommunicative group buy runners, and bad QC. There’s none of that here. I support this trend of having high-end keyboards in-stock because it’s so much safer and available for the consumer.

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However, in-stock also means that overhead and cost-fronting have to be considered, and that’s reflected in the relatively high price. The Raven (along with LeandreN’s Klippe and Fjell) occupies the top end of tray mount prices, and that can turn some people off.  Some keyboard enthusiasts would argue that at that price point, you should be getting a top mount or sandwich mount instead. They have a point, but the plateless tray mount experience is something that just cannot be replicated fully in top mount or sandwich mount form.

As such, unless you’re okay with taking a Dremel to your Tofu ZealPC style, get the Raven for a plateless MX build. It’s an awesome board with great quality all around. It gets a buy recommendation for me.

You can pick the Raven (and the HHKB equivalent, Sidewinder) at PrimeKB here: https://www.primekb.com/products/duck-raven-sidewinder

Review: yuktsi’s TGR Alice (B-Stock)

Introduction

If you know anything about high-end custom keyboards, you know that owning a TGR gives you clout second only to owning an OTD. TGR boards regularly sell out in a matter of minutes (or 41 seconds in the case of the Jane V2) and fetch astronomical prices in the aftermarket. It’s not just that yuktsi, the Malaysian designer behind TGR, is an established community member with a proven track record, TGR boards also tend to be released in extremely low quantities in relation to the number of people who like the designs.

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While I’ve always seen myself as a practical person when it comes to keyboards who prioritizes performance above all else, I wanted an Alice because unlike a lot of custom keyboards out there, it wasn’t a keyboard you could just get. Sure, there was a bit of national pride thrown in there (I’m also from Malaysia), and sure the layout and shape of the keyboard was something I could intuitively appreciate. But. That. Clout. So, when I had the chance to pick up a B-stock Alice, I sure as hell did exactly that.

Specifications

Case Material: Aluminum

Weight Material: Sandblasted Brass

Plate Material: Sandblasted Brass

PCB: Proprietary TGR PCB

Case Construction: Two-Part Case with Seam

Elevation Angle: 8 degrees

Plate-Mounting System: Top-Mounted

Layout: 60% Ergo

Price: $463 (+$60 shipping + fees)

Link: https://geekhack.org/index.php?topic=95054.0

Unboxing

The unboxing experience of the Alice, while extremely barebones, is very well done. When you first get the package, you’re presented with a cardboard box with the TGR logo emblazoned across it. Opening that up, you see the Alice nested firmly in a custom-cut piece of foam that fits the board perfectly.

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As a community, we have never expected Apple levels of design thought in the unboxing experience of a custom keyboard. As the premium product that TGR boards make themselves out to be, I would have preferred a more designed, unboxing experience similar to what Norbauer or RAMA does, but I’m okay with this. It does its job of protecting the keyboard completely as it travels halfway around the world perfectly.

Building the Keyboard

This is a hot take for sure, but the Alice has been my favorite keyboard to build, ever. The years of experience yuktsi has owning and designing keyboards really shows through here as all the small details like hole sizing, tolerance and spacing are done really well. This made building the Alice a smooth sailing experience with zero hiccups.

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The switch plate, a common cause of stress for me when building keyboards, came warp-free with perfect switch hole sizing for the retooled Cherry MX Blacks I was using. All the switches snapped in securely, but they never felt too difficult to remove when I had to. The PCB was also easy to work with as the PCB-mounted Cherry switches went in firmly with little wiggle room. I’m glad that yuktsi designed the PCB holes for Cherry switch stems because I use Cherry almost exclusively, but this could be a problem for you if you’re using Gaterons (Gateron, pls fix).

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Even the best of us screw up sometimes. Check out that 1u Code mistake.

One mishap with building, which was of my own doing completely, was that I didn’t test the layout before building. On the bottom row, the right most two keys on the left side of the central blocker supports either a 2u-1.25u or a 2.25u-1u configuration, but I very stupidly soldered in a 2u-1u setup, leaving me stuck with an awkward hole between left ‘Spacebar’ and left ‘Windows’ until I made the trip back to the Maker Space. Always check your layouts before soldering, even if you think you’re a pro!

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Both the plate and the case screw in together with M3-sized screws, with 4mm variants holding the plate up to the top case and 6mm ones constraining the entire case together. Because the Alice has a two-part case construction with a seam that runs around where the cases meet, I had to do the look-super-closely-and-run-your-fingers-across-the-seam-while-holding-everything-still thing to make sure everything lined up perfectly. Some people call it the LSCARYFATSHES, but I say the full thing because I’m hardcore like that. I’m not a fan of boards with seams as I think more thought could be put into designing around them, but at this point, that struggle of feeling everything out before screwing the case together is essential to the keyboard building experience.

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The Alice is also fully programmable through the Bootmapper Client — my favorite out of the remapping methods available. The GUI was straightforward and easy to use, which made flashing and reflashing layouts a walk in the park.

Case Quality

Something I want to dispel immediately is the rumor that ‘TGR B-stock keyboards are the equivalent of A-stock boards from (insert any other designer)’. While my unit here is free of physical damage on its exterior, there are very clear reasons as to why it is labeled B-stock. What’s B-stock for TGR would also be B-stock for all but the scummiest makers in our hobby.

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Perfectly aligned left seam feat. some anodizing discoloration/yellowing

On two-part cases with joining seams, the most obvious demarcator of quality is the tolerances on those said seams. After spending an hour making sure the seams are as flush as possible and running my finger across the seam, I found that the top and bottom cases don’t fit perfectly. While the front and back seams are flush, one of the sides always ends up sticking out just a tad. This is not that big of a deal as it plagues most (if not all) keyboards with this style of construction, but it’s not perfect.

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Chamfers and edges done right.

The chamfers and edges on the interior of the bezels are done right — sharp at the protruding angles and chamfered everywhere else. Bezel spacing is also done right here with even spacing both horizontally and vertically between the keycaps and the bezels. This not only makes the keyboard look symmetrical, but it also makes keycap removal easy. If we were to standardize spacing dimensions on keyboards, we would base it off the Alice; it is that good.

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Mini-USB connector sticking out from the back.

One tolerance issue that needs to be addressed is the mini-USB connector that sticks out slightly from the back of case. In my opinion, this is unacceptable as it’s a clear design oversight that should have been caught during the prototyping phase. This mistake could potentially create additional wear and tear on the USB connector that could have been avoided completely.

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While the exteriors were free of flaws, the interiors on the Alice were full of machine marks — one of the reasons why it was sold as B-stock. These don’t bother me too much because they’re out of sight, but if you’re a perfectionist, you might find these unacceptable. Check these photos out:

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Machine marks below the chamfers.
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Some scratch marks that change the anodizing color.

The sandblasted brass weight that rests at the bottom of the keyboard is the sleeper hit for me. The dirty gold, almost olive-brown tone of the brass weight is very different from the typical golden-hued variants that I think most people would prefer. But, I think it’s cool that it stands out from the pack. The weight is also engraved with that beautiful cursive ‘Alice’ insignia that’s flanked by the TGR logo and ‘R-01’.

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The main reason my board was considered B-stock is the anodizing. As you can see in the photo below, something went horribly wrong with the dyes during the anodizing process, resulting in some yellowing at the seams. I was able to rub off some of the yellowing when I first got the board, but some of the yellowing still remains.

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Some yellowing at the seam. The yellowing is present on all four sides.

If we ignore the yellowing — and yes that is difficult considering how bad it is — the anodizing on the Alice is one of the best in the business. The texture is as smooth and consistent as I’ve seen come across my review table. Upon close inspection, the board exhibits none of the typical ano/machining flaws like streaking, pitting, dark spots or color inconsistencies. While this doesn’t excuse the anodizing flaws, it makes me hopeful that A-stock designated boards have the top-tier anodizing you’d expect from a board at this price.

Layout

The Alice’s layout is not new by any means. It draws very heavily from Lin3x’s EM7 keyboard but with a few changes, the most significant of which is the removal of the arrow cluster and the two extra keys on the right. Yuktsi decided to remove the arrow cluster because his palm would end up pressing the arrow keys during typing. Also, with the Alice’s setup the homing rows are almost perfectly centered for that symmetrical #setupgoals.

From a purely functional standpoint, a layout is only as good as the efficiency at which you type on it. Personally, as someone who doesn’t type with proper form (don’t laugh, but I use my right pointer figure for ‘Spacebar’), adjusting to this keyboard was a very difficult process, and one that is ongoing. When I first got the Alice, my WPM was a disastrous 20WPM. I slowly but surely found my groove, but I still type about 10WPM less on the Alice than on my other keyboards. Even with the slower WPM, I still find myself wanting to use this layout because I appreciate the design thought put into creating it. I mean, just look at that:

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There are some other stuff about the layout that are worth mentioning. For one, the big holes between keycaps at the point the layout tilts, while necessary, breaks cohesion and will play a big role in deciding what keycaps you put on the Alice as the brass plate shows through in an obvious way. Additionally, don’t let the 60% ergo layout fool you — the Alice is almost as long as a standard TKL due to its center bezel and extra left column.

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Brass plate showing through the keycaps.

So is the Alice actually ergonomic? Kinda, but not as much as you think. It is slightly more ergonomic than a keyboard with straight rows because you don’t have to twist your wrist to get it lined up, and the homing row now fits the curve of your fingers much more naturally. However, I don’t feel like my wrists hurt any less using the Alice over regular keyboards, even after long typing sessions. I’ll let y’all know in 5 years if I get an RSI, though.

Typing Feel and Sound

The Alice, with its top-mounted 1.5mm brass plate and dense case, types like a dream. In my opinion, the hard plate setup found on the Alice complements the heavy retooled Cherry MX Blacks I have in them well. The very stiff brass plate gives no give when bottoming out, making for a consistent typing experience that is pure and unobstructed. A good feeling of oneness with cup rubber pronged sliders, if you will.

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I wish the Alice (and Jane V2, for that matter) came in an aluminum plate option for keyboard enthusiasts who prefer that in-between amount of flex that’s still metallic unlike plateless/half plate but not hard like brass/stainless steel. In my opinion, an aluminum plate option should be a standard offering for all top-mounted keyboard kits because it complements the additional flex that top mounts provide over sandwich mounts.

Sound-wise, the combination of brass plate and dense aluminum/brass case mean that the Alice produces a very singular, warm and clacky bottom out. As far as hard plates (aluminum, brass, stainless steel) go, brass is king for me as the sound signature of it just makes me feel all warm and cozy inside. Paired with the ABS of GMK sets, the ‘dampened clackiness’ of it absolutely sings when I type at full speed.

I do like variance in sound, soft plates and reverby bottom-outs, but the Alice’s typing feel and sound are perfect for me as my daily typing board. For how I like my keyboards, the Alice is top 3 in terms of typing feel for linears and my favorite board of all time in terms of sound. As such, while some of the cosmetic flaws do irk me, this keyboard performs like the best of them and that’s what’s most important.

Conclusion

I’m conflicted. As a reviewer, I find my job is to educate the consumer’s purchasing decision and side with the consumer over the manufacturer. As such, it feels weird reviewing a board that you not only can’t actually buy at list right now, but also is prohibitively expensive in the aftermarket. At the same time, this review can act as a written guide about this keyboard so people who don’t have the opportunity to own one can experience it vicariously through my terrible writing. This also provides a jump-off point for people who want to know what to expect from joining a TGR board.

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Me questioning my life choices aside, the Alice is fantastic. I’m still working on getting used to the layout, but during the 10% of the time I get into my stride typing on this thing, it feels and sounds amazing. The kit was easy to build and the keyboard goes together extremely well, too. It’s no wonder many people in our community put this board in the running for ‘Board of the Year’.

When I was first offered the opportunity to purchase the B-stock board and was shown the anodizing flaws, I felt perfectly fine with it. Strangely, now that I’ve come to really enjoy typing on it, I’m kicking myself wishing I had gotten in on an A-stock one instead. I know I’m going to keep this around for a long time, so I wish I have one that’s perfect.

For all you people with money thinking of picking one up, the Alice is NOT a $900 keyboard, market factors and intangibles notwithstanding. But, we cannot just ignore clout and supply/demand; this keyboard is selling at a higher and higher price with every passing day. Most of the Alices have delivered to customers and the market is flush with new units, so if you’re gonna get one anyways, get it now.